The season finale of Saturday Night Live is this weekend and they are pulling out the big guns to celebrate. Mick Jagger will host, and he will be joined for musical performances by the Foo Fighters and Arcade Fire. One could only hope that a few guest stars (Keith?) will make a cameo, as SNL has proven very talented in that arena as of late (have to once again shout out Jon Hamm’s recent digital short appearance as the funniest thing I have seen in a while). But how do we feel about the quality of SNL as a whole lately? How do we feel about the basically-set-in-stone rumor that Kristen Wiig and Andy Samdberg are both leaving? I think it is devastating and I’m not sure next season will be a one-to-watch. Now don’t get me wrong – I think SNL is one of pop-culture’s most prized gems and we all know Lorne Michaels knows how to bounce back from a slumpy season. He’s done it many, many times before and he always introduces us to the next big thing. So rather than dwell on what SNL will be sans Wiig/Samdberg, I’d like to focus on the good and highlight SNL’s longest running cast members of all time.
Darrell Hammond (believe it or not) holds the record for an SNL cast member with the longest tenure. In 1995, as stars such as Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, Phil Hartman and Adam Sandler were saying their goodbyes, a new era at SNL began with the introduction of Cheri Oteri, Molly Shannon, Will Ferrell and Darrell Hammond. Hammond’s celebrity impressions made him a favorite, and he holds the record for performing the most (a whopping 107), most famously including Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney and Arnold Schwarzenegger. One of my all time favorite skits cast him as Sean Connery, the stereotypical ignorant actor who fails to answer Alex Trebek’s (Will Ferrell’s) questions on Celebrity Jeopardy. He even managed to bungle a few category names. Anyone remember The Pen Is Mightier? Hammond departed the show after 14 seasons in 2009.
Al Franken ranked up 11 seasons with the sketch comedy show, making him #2 on the all-time list. He was a writer on the show’s first season in 1975 and quickly began performing his sketches on air. He left the show for a while (following a scandal where an offer to be the show’s Executive Producer was reneged after he performed an insulting skit about the then NBC EP) but returned in the 80s and 90s. Franken is best known for creating the self-help guru Stuart Smalley who encouraged everyone to repeat in front of a mirror: “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!” Admit it, you know you’ve said it. I’m not super familiar with the rest of Franken’s work but I do know his comic genius had something to do with the success of this show from the get-go.
Third on the list is the beloved Seth Meyers who joined the show in 2001. He is currently the head-writer of the show and anchor of the Weekend Update segment. While undoubtedly a talented impersonator, Meyers is most well known for writing the sketches featuring Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, and quite possibly having affected the outcome of the actual election. He has solidified himself as a major player amongst the Jon Stewarts and Stephen Colberts of the world as a top political commentator known for balancing comedy and criticism. While I miss the co-team of Meyers and Poehler, the Weekend Update is still the segment I most look forward to on Saturday nights.
Rounding out our top four is Tim Meadows, the longest serving African-American cast member in SNL history. He served 10 seasons before leaving at the end of the 25th. During his time, he perfected many impersonations including OJ Simpson and Tiger Woods, but is most famously known for his recurring character Leon Phelps – The Ladies Man. This wasn’t my favorite character and I’ve always felt that SNL could have done more with this talent. Maybe Tina Fey will continue to put him in her movies, like she did with Mean Girls.
This list is likely to change in the coming years as current cast members rank up the seasons. Let us know which of these long-timers is your favorite.
Al Franken Darrell Hammond